FOXBORO, Mass. — Believe it or not, the New England Patriots don’t have a Deshaun Watson clone stashed on their roster. So, how do they prepare for a quarterback who can run as fast and throw as well as the Houston Texans signal caller?
“It’s hard,” head coach Bill Belichick said Friday. “There’s not many guys like that in the league. We had the same thing a couple weeks ago when we were talking about (Carolina Panthers quarterback) Cam Newton. Same thing. Guys that are big, fast, athletic, can throw the ball all over the field. There’s only a couple of them in the league. To have them on your team would be unusual.
“You just do the best you can on that. Try to give the defense the best look as you can at what they do. Sometimes that might be putting a receiver or something like that at quarterback. We’ve used offensive linemen at running back against big backs to simulate that type of an athlete carrying the ball. But yeah, you’ve got guys who are unique players with special skill, you can’t replicate them and neither can anyone else except for that team that has that guy. You just try to do the best you can, take what you have and try to simulate it maybe with two or three guys. Maybe one guy simulates his speed, another guy simulates his passing skill. Maybe it’s not the same guy.”
Earlier this week in practice, Patriots young cornerbacks Keion Crossen and Jomal Wiltz were spotted taking reps at quarterback to prepare New England’s pass rushers to keep their containment.
It’s likely either backup quarterback Brian Hoyer or rookie Danny Etling is imitating Watson as a passer.
This isn’t the first time the Patriots have used players out of position on the scout team. Belichick said Patriots safety Patrick Chung also takes reps on offense. It sounds like former Patriots Rodney Harrison and Mike Vrabel were the kings of the scout team.
“I’m talking about Vrabel on defense,” Belichick said. “Free safety, strong safety, defensive end, linebacker, inside linebacker, outside linebacker. I’m sure there were times he was out there at corner. But safety for sure. He used to drive Tom (Brady) crazy playing safety. If we played against a safety and we didn’t know what he would do, we’d tell Vrabel to just go out there and beat the quarterback, do whatever you want. And Mike would do that and do it well.”
Harrison, at 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, would imitate former Indianapolis Colts pass rusher Dwight Freeney.
“Rodney at linebacker, safety, corner,” Belichick said. “If there was a fast pass rusher on the edge when we were playing against somebody, he’d jump in there and take reps and be that guy. Rodney was a good blitzer. He was an excellent pass rusher. He didn’t get to do it very much because of the position he played, but he’d jump in there on scout team and rush off the edge.
“That’s about as good of a look if we were playing Freeney or someone like that for (former Patriots offensive tackle Matt) Light. (Harrison would say ) ‘I’ll take some of these. If you need speed off the edge, I’ll give you speed off the edge.’ And he did. Just saying those guys, they really come to mind when you say that. Guys that just love to play out there all the time, great condition, can go all day. It’s never like, ‘Hey, I need a rest. Get someone in here for me.’ They’re, ‘what more can I do?'”
Belichick did note, jokingly, that Chung has yet to play on the interior line. But it’s certainly notable to hear him say they’ve used offensive linemen at running back.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images